Nickey Brennan Picture: Frank McGrath
Nickey Brennan is a living legend in sporting circles - but his toughest battle came off the field.
The 66-year-old, who enjoyed an illustrious career as a player and a manager with Kilkenny and also served as the 35th President of the GAA, contracted the Covid-19 virus in March and faced into his toughest battle to date.
“It was Holy Thursday when I felt really bad,” he said, recalling when he fell ill. “I rang my doctor and he got me in for testing for the virus on the following Tuesday. I was coughing and sweating and had aches and pains - it was awful.
“I was driven into Nowlan Park and it was a sombre experience. By then I wasn’t sleeping and my appetite was gone and I had to remain sitting up all the time to stay anyway comfortable. It was a real worry.
“All the memories from being in Nowlan Park came back. I tested positive for the virus and I was sent to Kilcreene Hospital for an assessment and then went into St Luke’s. I went into the Emergency Department and was moved into an isolation unit and underwent more tests.
“I was very conscious when I was in St Luke’s Hospital of the two frontline workers who had died and the mood in the hospital was subdued,” he continued.
“The staff were excellent, caring and professional, I couldn’t praise them enough.
“The doctors gave me medication and sent me home to fight the virus. At that point I hadn’t slept for a week and a half - I was absolutely wrecked both physically and mentally.
“It was the sickest that I have ever been but I am very conscious that there are other people who were a lot worse off,” he said.
A non-drinker and non-smoker, Nickey attributes his healthy lifestyle to helping him fight off the virus.
“Before the Covid-19 outbreak I was swimming 350 to 400 lengths of the pool in the Newpark Hotel every week and I think that was a big factor in my breathing control,” he added.
Nickey has made an excellent recovery and is back out walking up to nine kilometres a day. He said he is close to being back to “100%” but admits that the gruelling experience is one he will never forget.
“It was very stressful, it was the worst thing I ever went through - I was floored from it,” he said.
“My heart goes out to people, especially those who have loved lost ones from this virus.”
The Kilkennyman is full of praise not only for frontline workers in hospitals but also staff in nursing homes.
“I have seen the statistics from nursing homes and it is terrible how the virus swept through some of them,” he said.
“My brother, Gearoid, is involved in Brookhaven Nursing Care, which owns a number of nursing homes, including Brookhaven Nursing Home in Ballyragget and fortunately there have had no reported cases of Covid-19.
“My sister, Kathleen, works as a nurse in Hamburg in Germany and two of my wife Mairead’s sisters are in nursing homes so I was well aware of the challenges that exist.”
In recent weeks cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Kilkenny and across the country are decreasing but Nickey Brennan is adamant that we all need to keep our eye on the ball if we are to keep Covid-19 at bay.
“Normally at this time of the year I would be heading to matches or going to cover matches but it will be a sports-free summer for the most part this year,” he said.
“Hopefully club matches will take place in September and some inter-county matches may take place later in the year.
“August will be a defining month as it is only then after all the stages have been completed will we see if the roadmap has worked.
“I think August will be a crucial month and we will have a much clearer picture them from a sporting perspective of what can happen for the rest of the year.
“People need to continue to act safely and responsibly. I think by and large we have acclimatised to this new normal but we have to stick with the distancing and the queuing. We need to wear face masks when we are in shops.
“We have to keep listening to the experts,” he stressed.
“They have got almost everything right, apart from some issues with nursing homes and how they dealt with Cheltenham and other sporting fixtures in March.
“It is very important that people have hope,” he added. “Hopefully things will continue to open up, but we have to continue to listen to the experts and follow their advice if this is to happen.”
With the accelerated easing of restrictions there are many reasons for people to be positive, but there is still a long road to travel.
“It is important that the economy opens up safely but restrictions need to stay in place for now,” he said.
“The scientific evidence is there that if physical distancing was reduced from two metres to one metre the virus would spread further. Physical distancing will be difficult especially for bars and restaurants and a number will not reopen. We have to remember that all these measures are for the greater good and we just have to continue doing what the experts are asking of us.
“There will also be a lot of challenges with schools and travel going forward.
“Having come through my battle with the virus I know the impact it can have not just personally but nationally and internationally. If you pick it up you know in your heart and soul that it can be very serious and you do worry if you will see it through.
“I am very grateful to be back in good health and be able to look forward. I know there are so many others who have been far more affected and my heart goes out to them. We all have to do our best to keep the virus under control for us all and for the greater good.”